Toyota New Zealand argues that the new Camry is no longer just a car for the head - that it now appeals to the emotions as well.

No surprise there - it's all part of the parry-and-thrust of any Camry launch, and we've been told similar things for at least the last two generations of this impressive but sometimes-anodyne Australian-built sedan.

However, this time around a Toyota marketing executive also claimed that the new flagship Atara SX is the "first true Camry sports sedan".

Bold words and worth further investigation. So how do we feel after a week of hard driving with the SX?


First things first: Camry is a sprightly and sophisticated performer in seventh-generation guise. The 2.5-litre engine's 133kW/231Nm is nicely administered by the new six-speed automatic and energetic when you want it to be. Floor the throttle from a standstill, for example, and you get a chirp of the front wheels as the car launches.

Change down using the paddle shifters and the transmission will even 'blip' the engine between ratios. Although, if it was properly sporting the gearbox would also hold your chosen gear in manual mode. It doesn't - while the gear indicator stays static, the transmission surreptitiously kicks down or shifts up according to throttle use. The higher-grade Camry models get twin exhausts that liberate an extra 2kW/4Nm. Which is neither here nor there, apart from giving you bragging rights. But yes, Camry is a decent drive.

Nothing thus far described applies specifically to the Atara SX. Camry is primarily a business car, so if the budget allows there's a natural tendency for user-chooser to go straight to the top model in the shopping list.

What is it that makes the SX model special? It has stiffer suspension, full leather upholstery and some styling enhancements such as black-tinted headlights, a different rear bumper and sporty looking pedals. Looks good in the company carpark.

Camry doesn't quite have the dynamic flair of a Ford Mondeo or Mazda6, but it's in the right ballpark (or perhaps carpark?). However, I'm not sure the $51,490 Atara SX adds the right elements to the equation.

The sports suspension is too firm for Kiwi roads - there's a subtle rebound going on constantly during motorway driving and the lack of compliance on bumpy backroads makes the car feel unsettled. The rest of the package is simply dressing ... although it's good value dressing at a $2600 premium over the Atara S.

Yes, the $48,890 Atara S. If you really do want a Camry with a sporty edge, I reckon that's the one to go for. It has the extra power and most of the style of the SX, but offers grippy velour seats instead of the slippery red leather, as well as slightly softer suspension - which makes the Camry a more engaging drive on pretty much any road apart from a racetrack.

The bottom line:
Camry-with-everything Atara SX isn't the best or most sporting in the lineup. Step down to the Atara S if you really want to enjoy the drive

Ford Mondeo Titanium EcoBoost $52,990
Holden Commodore SV6 $55,490
Mazda6 Limited $50,345